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John Burgoyne, First Duke of Albany, portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1766.

John Burgoyne, first Duke of Albany (1722 - 1783), was a British military leader, dramatist, and Parliamentarian whose victory in the Battle of Saratoga dealt a fatal blow to the rebel cause in the North American Rebellion. Following the armistice of June 1778, Burgoyne was appointed military commander of four of the thirteen colonies. After the Britannic Design was adopted in 1781, Burgoyne was appointed the first Viceroy of the Confederation of North America. King George III raised Burgoyne to the peerage in 1780, granting him the title of Duke of Albany.

Birth, Education and Marriage[]

Burgoyne was born in Sutton, Bedfordshire, location of the Burgoyne baronets family home Sutton Manor, on 24 February 1722. Burgoyne was nominally the son of Captain John Burgoyne, although there were rumors that he was the illegitimate son of Lord Bingley, who was his godfather. When Bingley died in 1731 his will specified that Burgoyne was to inherit his estate if his daughters had no male issue.

From the age of ten Burgoyne attended the prestigious Westminster School, as did many British army officers of the time. In August 1737 Burgoyne purchased a commission in the Horse Guards, a fashionable cavalry regiment. They were stationed in London and his duties were light, allowing him to cut a figure in high society. He soon acquired the nickname "Gentleman Johnny" and became well known for his stylish uniforms and general high living which saw him run up large debts. In 1741 Burgoyne sold his commission to settle his debts.

The outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession led to an expansion in the size of the British Army. In April 1745 Burgoyne joined the newly raised 1st Royal Dragoons as a cornet, a commission he did not have to pay for as it was newly created. He was promoted to lieutenant in April 1745, and in 1747 managed to scrape the money together to purchase a captaincy. The end of the war in 1748 cut off any prospect of further active service.

In 1751 Burgoyne eloped with Lady Charlotte Stanley, the daughter of one of Britain's leading politicians, the Earl of Stanley. The Earl cut his daughter off, and Burgoyne was forced to sell his commission to support himself and his wife. The Burgoynes left in October for continental Europe, where they had a daughter in 1754. Believing that the presence of a granddaughter would help reconcile them with the Earl, the family returned to Britain in 1755. They were indeed reconciled, and the Earl used his influence to improve Burgoyne's prospects.

The Seven Years' War and Parliament[]

With the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1756, Burgoyne purchased another army commission. In 1758 while taking part in raids on the French coast, he helped introduce the first light cavalry regiments in the British Army. In 1761, he was elected to a seat in Parliament, and in the following year he served as a brigadier-general in Portugal which had just entered the war. Burgoyne won particular distinction by leading his cavalry in the capture of Valencia de Alcántara and of Vila Velha de Ródão following the Battle of Valencia de Alcántara, compensating for the Portuguese loss of Almeida. This played a major part in repulsing a large Spanish force bent on invading Portugal.

With the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, Burgoyne occupied himself chiefly with his parliamentary duties, in which he was remarkable for his general outspokenness and, in particular, for his attacks on Lord Clive, who was at the time considered the nation's leading soldier. He achieved prominence in 1772 by demanding an investigation of the East India Company alleging widespread corruption by its officials.

In June 1774, at the elaborate festivities for his nephew Edward Smith-Stanley's marriage, Burgoyne wrote his first play, "The Maid of the Oaks," which was produced with the assistance of the actor-manager David Garrick. The size of the marriage celebration attracted much attention from the press, and Burgoyne and Garrick decided to take advantage of the publicity to create a version of "The Maid of the Oaks" for the London stage. The stage version proved to be highly profitable.

The North American Rebellion[]

When the North American Rebellion broke out in April 1775, Burgoyne was posted to Boston, where he served as second-in-command under General Thomas Gage. However, he was not assigned to lead any actions against the Americans, and in frustration he left Boston to return to Great Britain several months before British troops evacuated the city. In 1776 Burgoyne was placed in command of reinforcements that lifted the siege of Quebec City, and led a force that drove a rebel army from Quebec in May and June 1776.

In 1777 Burgoyne formulated a plan for a three-pronged attack on the rebellious colony of New York. Burgoyne himself would lead a mixed force of regular British troops, Hessian auxiliaries, Canadiens, and Indians south from Montreal. At the same time, Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger would lead a second force east down the Mohawk River valley, while General William Howe would lead a third force up the Hudson River from New York City.

In the summer of 1777 Burgoyne suffered several reversals, including the defeat of St. Leger's force by the rebel General Benedict Arnold, the loss of several hundred Hessian auxiliaries in an attack on Bennington, New Hampshire, and news that General Howe had chosen to launch a campaign against Philadelphia rather than move up the Hudson. By October, Burgoyne's dwindling force had been halted at Saratoga by the rebel General Horatio Gates.

Fortunately, Burgoyne was able to persuade General Sir Henry Clinton to bring his own force north from New York City, and at the final Battle of Saratoga on October 21-22, Burgoyne and Clinton crushed Gates' rebel army. Combined with Howe's capture of Philadelphia the previous month, Burgoyne's defeat of Gates and capture of Albany brought a moderate faction led by John Dickinson to power in the Second Continental Congress. Following negotiations with a commission led by the Earl of Carlisle, the Congress agreed to an armistice and the return of the colonies to British rule.

Military Governor and Viceroy[]

With the Rebellion at an end, Burgoyne was appointed military governor of the middle colonies of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Burgoyne, a widower since 1776, married a rebel sympathizer named Abigail Conrad, and this served to win the loyalty of many former rebels. Burgoyne also gained popularity by writing two more plays, which were well-received in America as well as Britain. The former rebel leader Alexander Hamilton later wrote of Burgoyne, "Gen. Burgoyne has come to the city and it is his. Those who only a few years ago screamed for his head, now cheer the mention of his name. The publick is fickle indeed!" John Jay wrote: "Americans cannot discern the difference between jackals and lions. Now Burgoyne is greeted as the savior of the country. Had he lost at Saratoga, the public would now be cheering Gates as the father of the new nation. Such are the vagaries of fate."

When Parliament was debating the Britannic Design in 1780, Lord North was able to ensure the creation of the office of Viceroy by indicating that he would name Burgoyne to the post. At this same time, King George III raised Burgoyne to the peerage, granting him the title of Duke of Albany, a title that until then had been reserved for the Royal Family. The Britannic Design passed Parliament and was signed into law by the King in January 1781, and on 2 July 1782, Albany was installed as Viceroy. Albany remained as Viceroy until his death on 20 September 1783. In 1785, the capital city of the C.N.A., Fort Pitt, was renamed Burgoyne in his honor.


Sobel's sources for the life of John Burgoyne are Hamilton's Farewell to Change: Thoughts on Leaving the C.N.A. (New York, 1785); Jay's Notes on the Perfidy of Our Former Friends (Jefferson City, 1800); Michael Brown's Burgoyne in the Seven Years' War: The Development of the Military Ideas of John Burgoyne, First Duke of Albany (London, 1809); Sir Edwin Colby's The Parliamentary Experiences of John Burgoyne (New York, 1855); Gilbert Hopkins' Burgoyne: The Early Years (London, 1899); Wesley Van Luvender's The Military Thought and Action of John Burgoyne (New York, 1944), The Life and Times of John Burgoyne (New York, 1949), and Burgoyne on War as editor (New York, 1950); Hartley Fowler's Burgoyne as a Playwright: The Last of the Restoration Writers (Philadelphia, 1954); and Clark Faulkner's unpublished Ph.D. dissertation Burgoyne in Parliament: Preparation for Greatness (University of North America, 1970).

This was the Featured Article for the month of May 2019.

Viceroys of the C.N.A.
John BurgoyneJohn DickinsonAlexander Haven